The United States has stated that it will not release President Bola Tinubu’s criminal and immigration records until 2026.
Due to “unusual circumstances,” the U.S. Department of State and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are withholding the documents from the public. In response to a FOIA request, American officials estimated that it would take until January 2026 before they could release the requested documents.
The matter is now the subject of a civil lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, presided over by Judge Beryl Howell.
American advocate for open government Aaron Greenspan had submitted a request for Mr. Tinubu’s immigration and criminal records with the FBI, State Department, Department of Treasury, and Drug Enforcement Administration, among other federal, state, and municipal agencies.
The filings came as Mr Tinubu maintained in court that he did not commit any crimes during his decades-long residency in the U.S. Mr Tinubu also asserted ownership of his identity, despite strong indications, he might have changed names and education records in the past.
Mr Tinubu’s real identity and education records contain omissions and contradictions that he has not explained to the public. For instance, the Nigerian president had said under oath to the electoral office INEC, while seeking to be Lagos governor in 1999, that he attended the prestigious University of Chicago.
The university has since disowned Mr Tinubu. Another American school, Chicago State University, confirmed a Bola Tinubu attended the school but did not say whether it was the Nigerian president. Documents from the school showed that a person bearing Bola Tinubu, who attended the school in the 1970s, was a female.
Mr Tinubu also stated under oath in 1999 that he attended primary and secondary schools in Lagos and Ibadan in the 1950s and 1960s, but he expunged those assertions from his latest INEC application form ahead of the recently concluded Presidential election. He did not explain why he removed the claims, although there was no evidence that the primary school he said he attended ever existed in Nigeria.
Mr Tinubu, 71, was named as a launderer of proceeds of drug trafficking in U.S. court documents in 1993. He forfeited $460,000 at the time.
The records formed a key part of an ongoing challenge to Mr Tinubu’s election as president of Nigeria before a tribunal hearing election petitions in Abuja. This prompted Mr Greenspan, who runs PlainSite, a website that holds files from American courts and institutions, to file multiple requests to U.S. authorities in possession of documents that could help clarify some of the crucial questions upsetting Nigerian minds.
The State Department is believed to have records of whether or not the person who applied for a U.S. visa and travelled as Bola Tinubu in the 1970s is the same person running Nigeria today.
The FBI could throw more light on how Mr Tinubu became involved in drugs in the U.S. and other criminal charges that he might have faced but which were not in public records.
“This office will not be able to respond within the 20 days provided by the statute due to unusual circumstances,” the State Department said in a May 15, 2023, letter to Mr Greenspan.
Previously on August 4, 2022, the FBI sent a message to Mr Greenspan, saying: “Please be advised that ‘unusual circumstances’ apply to the processing of your request.”
But on March 22, 2023, the FBI said it would try to release all documents relating to Mr Tinubu in its possession, but not until January 2026 at the earliest. Other agencies, including the Department of Treasury’s Internal Revenue Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration, also said they wouldn’t release the documents on the same grounds.
The FBI also said Mr Greenspan “failed to demonstrate that the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government.” But the activist promptly responded by detailing how Mr Tinubu’s drug forfeiture case in Chicago drew the most eyes to his organisation’s website over the past year. The website has over 15 million records.
All the agencies have now been summoned to appear in court to show course why records relating to a Nigerian president were deemed unusual and inconsequential to be released to the public.
On July 17, assistant U.S. attorney Jared Littman entered an appearance as the lawyer representing all the agencies, and promptly requested a delay until August 28, 2023, to file a response to the lawsuit, which was instituted on June 12, 2023.